What Frogs Tell Us … Amphibian Watch

What Frogs Tell Us … Texas Amphibian Watch

Amphibian Watch : What Frogs Tell us

Green tree frog
image: BJ WOK/


After a good rain, the Rolling Plains Master Naturalist group that I belong to often goes out on an amphibian watch to listen to and record the different kinds of frogs that are singing after a rain. I don’t live close to my group any more, so I no longer participate on the amphibian watch with them. But I’m still interested…I’m still a master naturalist, even if I’m not hanging out with my peeps.

Saturday afternoon I drove along a country road with the car windows down, radio off… just enjoying the  cool damp air after one of the downpours of rain that we’ve been simultaneously enjoying and fearing this last week. I was just driving along, loving the day, when what to my wondering ears should I hear? Frogs! And lots of them.

I was driving past a “froggy bottom” when I heard them. The area was a little creek/draw/bottom land that acts as a wetland, no doubt harboring many different kinds of frogs no matter what the weather. I pulled over to the side of the road and merely listened to them for a little while. It was a beautiful sound.

 They were out, singing after the rain, in their own distinct voices. I couldn’t identify what kind of frogs were calling except for bullfrogs. I simply enjoyed listening to them. Later, I looked up the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department website and queried “frog calls.” There was a large list of links to various frog and toad calls. I listened and tried to identify what I’d heard. I’m not sure I identified the frog calls correctly, but it was interesting to listen to the various sounds.

The Rolling Plains Master Naturalist group is involved in the Texas Amphibian Watch. After a good rain, the group goes out after dark to a specified wetland area and listens to the evening sounds. This activity is an extension of the class on amphibians that participants attend as part of their training to be a master naturalist and citizen scientist. After listening, identifying, and counting the different frog and toad calls, the group turns in the results of the observation to the Texas Amphibian Watch.

Frogs and toads are more important than one might think.

Toad Amphibian WAtch

image: James Barker/

They do more than eat flies and mosquitoes. Amphibians are a clue to the impact man and pollution has on the environment. Observing what’s happening to the frogs is a sign of what’s happening to our water in lakes, ponds, and rivers.

All amphibians use wetlands in at least a part of their life cycle. They have permeable skin which causes them to be readily affected by any changes in their environment. Because of these two traits, ecologists believe that amphibians and any changes in their population in an area are the first signal of a changing ecosystem.

In 1989, scientists became alarmed at significant declines in the populations of some amphibians. This decline seemed to be happening all over the world. In 1995, a group of Minnesota school children noticed frog populations that had malformed limbs. There had been a surge in the number of frogs with deformities. The frogs were the first indicators of a broad change in the ecosystem.

“Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species — man — acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world. ”
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

The Texas Amphibian Watch relies on citizen scientists and master naturalists to report observations about amphibian populations. The amphibian watch helps us to understand the clues that frogs, toads, and salamanders leave us about the ecosystem.

To become involved with the Texas Amphibian Watch, you can join your local master naturalist group or go to the website at :

Watch this video by Joe Furman and listen to the frogs singing. Oh, and watch out for those alligators!

Why ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore –

I’m glad to see this article by Michael Pollan here at NY Times. “Natural” is one of those labels that I question. So what? So it’s natural! Arsenic is also “natural”. Just sayin’…  __Peggy Browning

Whether we’re talking about food, politics or morality, we can’t agree on a definition.

Source: Why ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore –

‘Rollie Pollies’ Remove Heavy Metals From Soil, Stabilize Growing Conditions, & | Healthy News and Information

I always wondered what role Rollie Polies played in the grand scheme of things… you know…Nature and what-not. Here’s the answer to my questions.

‘Rollie Pollies’ Remove Heavy Metals From Soil, Stabilize Growing Conditions, & | Healthy News and Information.

Common Wildflowers in Texas

Common Wildflowers and times of year they bloom

Common Wildflowers

Texas Wildflowers … just one of the subjects covered through the Texas Master Naturalist Program

The bluebonnets are appearing in swaths of color along the roadsides and in pastures here in the Rolling Plains. It’s the sign we wait for, that annual oasis of blue in the greening countryside. It’s the sure sign of spring here. Most folks have at least one photograph of their children or grandchildren posing in a patch of bluebonnets.

The formal name for the bluebonnet is lupines texensis. If you look closely at it, you’ll find the flower resembles an old-fashioned bonnet. The flowers that we see here are the shorter, more common variety that reaches the height of 15 to 24 inches and grows east of a line that runs through northeast to southwest Texas. In west Texas another variety, the tall Big Bend bluebonnet, grows up to three feet tall. Bluebonnets bloom from March through May, depending on its location in the state.

Bluebonnets are lupines and lupines also bloom in other colors. In 1901, the bluebonnet was named the official state flower of Texas. However, in 1971, the state legislature named the lupine (in all its colors) as the state flower.

The lupine’s blossoming heralds the arrival of other spring blooming wildflowers like the Indian paintbrush, Mexican hat, evening primrose, and Indian blanket.

The Indian paintbrush is another beautiful flower that is often seen as a companion to bluebonnets. They vary in color from scarlet to orange, cream, and yellow. The Indian paintbrush is a parasitic plant and relies on the roots other plants to grow. Like the bluebonnet, it grows from northeast through southwest Texas from March to May, being at its best in April.

The Mexican hat is part of the sunflower family and grows throughout Texas. Its yellow to yellow-orange to reddish-orange flowers resemble a Mexican sombrero because it has a tall, finger-like stem that grows in the center above the multi-colored petals. It grows from 12 to 36 inches tall and blooms in May through July.

The primrose is also called a buttercup. It can bloom in colors of pale yellow or pink. The pink primrose is the most common species that we see in the Rolling Plains. It belongs to the evening primrose family. It is low-growing in nature and grows from 8 to 18 inches high. Its broad petals may be pink, light pink, or creamy white with pink or red veins and yellow centers. It blooms from April through June.

The Indian blanket is also called firewheel or gaillardia. It’s hardy in the Texas heat, prefers sandy soil, and is drought tolerant. The Indian blanket flowers are very showy with their shades of orange, red, and yellow and the inter-linked colors in the petal make them look like a woven blanket. They grow profusely in pastures and can easily cover a large area. Like the Mexican hat, the Indian blanket is part of the sunflower family. It grows from 12 inches to 30 inches tall and blooms from April to July. The Indian blanket is the Oklahoma state flower.

How to Care for Wild Baby Rabbits

How to Care for Wild Baby Rabbits

by Peggy Browning

baby rabbits

Wild Rabbit
Image: James Barker/

Spring is almost here in Texoma and that means the world is abundant with new life. Soon the mesquite trees will leaf out and bloom, wildflowers will pop out new blooms, and animals’ nests will fill with new babies.

Of course, we humans may unwittingly interfere with some of that new life.

A Sad Tale of Orphaned Baby Rabbits

Several years ago, a very nice but very distraught man carrying a box of newborn baby cottontail rabbits arrived at the feed store where I worked. He was terribly upset because he had accidentally run over and killed a mother rabbit while he was mowing. Then he found her nest of four babies. He brought them to the store to see if we could help him. He wanted to know if he should euthanize them, put them back in the nest, or try to raise them himself. He was very relieved when I volunteered to take them home with me and attempt to feed them.

We fed the baby rabbits.

I bought some baby kitten formula and bottles from the feed store and took the babies home with me. My daughter and I bottle fed them around the clock, built a rabbit hutch, and fed them lettuce and rabbit food.

And we released the baby rabbits back to the wild.

After several weeks, when I thought they were big enough to fend for themselves, we released them into the wild at Lucy Park. I still don’t know if we did the right thing, but we tried to do what we thought was right.

Sometimes well-meaning humans find a nest of baby animals where the mother is absent and assume the babies have been abandoned. That may occur sometimes, as in the case of the man who had accidentally killed the mother rabbit, but it’s not likely that the mother has disappeared and won’t return. It’s more probable that she’s out looking for food or keeping predators away from the nest and will be back. Rabbits’ milk is the most nutritious of all mammals and is rich enough for one feeding to satisfy a bunny all day. A mother may be with her babies for five minutes in the morning and return at the end of the day. Be assured that she will be back, probably in the middle of the night. The point is that humans should not disturb the nest unnecessarily.

Some tips if you find orphaned baby rabbits.

Here’s a few tips to follow if you should find a rabbit nest:

If the nest seems undisturbed and there’s nothing unusual about it, leave it that way. Don’t give in to the temptation to look at the cute bunnies.

If the nest is disturbed and the rabbits are loose or if your dog brings you a baby bunny, wipe any moisture off it, then return the baby to the nest. Cover the nest again so the baby can burrow back into it.

If the nest is completely destroyed, dig a hole nearby and gather as much of the materials as possible. Place them in the new nest. Put the babies in their new burrow and cover them with dried grass, leaving a space big enough for the mother to crawl in. She will probably find them. The smell of humans, dogs, or other animals will not deter the mother rabbit from returning to her babies. She will come back to the nest even if human scent lingers on it.

Check daily on the nest to see if the babies appear healthy. You can tell if the mother is not coming back if the babies are cold, dehydrated, thin, or whining. If these signs of abandonment are present, then you can help. Gather the bunnies and take them to a veterinarian, humane society, or an animal rehabilitation facility.

Click here for more Information about how to care for wild baby rabbits. 

Bird Watching : American Robin

 Bird Watching:  American Robin

by Peggy Browning

Bird Watching: American Robin

Photographing American Robin in the snow. The American Robin has a variable migratory habit.
Image:Robert Radford/

 Bird Watching:  American Robin

On one of the warmer February days, after the ice and snow had melted following a cold snap, a friend called me to tell me about the robins in her yard. She said there were fifteen of them on her front lawn and they were settled on the ground, picking at the dead grass.

  She had some questions for me.

  • Do robins migrate?
  • Did their presence mean an early Spring?
  • What were they doing on the grass?
  • Were they going to stay?

I had theories about this, but no solid answers. Research was required.

Bird Watching: Robins

A robin rests on an icy bird bath. Image: TinaPhillips/

Here’s what I learned:

The American robin is found on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and it nests as far north as the Alaskan and Canadian tree line and as far south as the mountains in Mexico. Its range is consistent through the United States…the robin is found in all 50 states and is the state bird for Wisconsin, Michigan and Connecticut.

The American robin is a member of the thrush family. In fact, it is the largest variety of the thrushes.

As for the question about robins migrating, the answer is technically “yes, they do migrate.”  The American robin species is considered migratory. However, they don’t all fly to a particular location like swallows to Capistrano. They just move where it’s a little warmer and they do not move in large flocks as geese do.

 In winter, American robins move from the northernmost part of their range to the southern part.

 In parts of the U.S. where the winter is long and cold…like Maine or Minnesota…the birds will move as far south as Florida and Texas and stay until the spring thaw.

If they live in a warmer state like Georgia, they may just move from the coldest part of the state to the warmest. They move where it’s warmer  to find abundant food supplies and they stay in large groups roosting in trees and eating berries, worms, and insects.

It’s not uncommon for Texans to see robins all winter long.

When the weather warms, male robins head back to their original territory to establish their breeding grounds. The females follow. They leave the southern climate and slowly make their way back home. They follow the spring thermals, stopping where life and spring is returning to the landscape. They stop where they can find food and feast on the earthworms and insects available in suburban yards and other landscapes.

The little songbirds herald both their own return and Spring’s return with their song of “Cheerily cheer-up cherrio.” Click here to hear different songs of the American robin.

This is a You Tube video made by Timothy Ng at his home in New York.

What I’ve Learned from the Texas Master Naturalist Program

What I’ve Learned as a Texas Master Naturalist

by Peggy Browning

Everyday sacred image from usamedeniz/

I Have Learned a lot by Participating in the Texas Master Naturalist Program.
Everyday sacred
image from usamedeniz/

In recent years I have learned about tagging monarch butterflies, I’ve helped clean Plum Lake several times and Sikes Lake once, I’ve prepared a butterfly garden area at Fort Richardson, I’ve baited kids’ fishhooks at afternoon kid fishing events, measured fish at kid fishing tournaments, I’ve listened to frogs chirp, and I’ve trimmed trees at the Lake Arrowhead State Park hiking trail.

New Classes Start on March 10, 2015.

 I didn’t do this all on my own…I did it with a group of like-minded adults.

I am a member of the Rolling Plains Master Naturalist group. We are part of the Texas Master Naturalist Program.

The Texas Master Naturalist program is sponsored by the Texas Cooperative Extension (AgriLIFE Extension) and The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. The goal of the program is to improve individual understanding of natural researches and their management activities in Texas. These two state departments work in partnership to provide an educational volunteer program to all who are interested in learning about the management of natural resources in Texas.

New Classes Start on March 10, 2015.

The mission of the Texas Master Naturalist program is:

“To develop a corps of well-informed volunteers who provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the state of Texas.”

And that’s why…after it rains…I go to the Lake Wichita Park after dark with a group of adults and we listen to the frogs ribbit. We are identifying the different sounds, counting how many different ones we hear, and reporting to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department about what we observe. It’s part of our Amphibian Watch.

We also help kids learn to fish at the after school fishing events given by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department each spring and fall. Some of the Master Naturalist volunteers give programs at schools to teach students about ecology. Some volunteers help at the River Bend Nature Center summer camps. Some clean rivers, some count frog croaks. Some spend many, many hours at the Wild Bird Refuge rescuing and feeding baby birds.

The activities are varied and diverse, but all the volunteers of the Rolling Plains Master Naturalist group are helping to fulfill the TMN mission of trained volunteers to provide education, outreach and service to improve public understanding of natural resource ecology.

New Classes Start on March 10, 2015.

The Rolling Plains Master Naturalist group would love to have more members, volunteers, and like-minded folks. We meet at 7 p.m. on the 1st Tuesday of every month at River Bend Nature Center, 2200 3rd Street, Wichita Falls. Guests are always welcome.

Learn more about the Rolling Plains Master Naturalists at: contact Chapter President, Terry McKee at

Texas Master Naturalist Program Rolling Plains Chapter

 Join the Texas Master Naturalist Program and become  a citizen scientist.

by Peggy Browning

Texas Master Naturalist Rolling Plains Chapter

Texas Wildflowers ... just one of the subjects covered through the Texas Master Naturalist Program

Texas Wildflowers … just one of the subjects covered through the Texas Master Naturalist Program

When I signed up for the Texas Master Naturalist Program in March 2006, I was simply looking for something to do in the evening. I read a little bit about the program and, having some interest in ecology and green living, decided to try it.

I expected to learn a little bit about “green stuff” although I really had no clue what I would actually be learning. I just paid my fee for the classes, then paid the fee for my friend and my daughter and forced them to go with me.

The classes and the program turned out better than any of the three of us could have expected them to be. We learned lots of interesting things about our wonderful world.

The Texas Master Naturalist Program began in 1997 to “develop a corps of well-informed volunteers who provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas with their communities for the state of Texas”.

To become a TMN, you are required to complete a training program organized and sponsored by a local Master Naturalist chapter. There are 44 TMN chapters across Texas. The Rolling Plains Chapter serves Wichita County and the surrounding counties. In the training program, you complete 40 hours of education: a combination of classroom instruction and field experiences.

Texas Cooperative Extension and Texas Parks & Wildlife provide a statewide curriculum for the Master Naturalist program. However, each chapter is encouraged to make the curriculum relevant to its own issues, ecosystems, and area. Local experts and master naturalists lead the classes and the field trips.

The subjects include:

  • Weather and climate
  • Geology and soils
  • Ecological regions of Texas
  • Ecosystems: Concepts and Management
  • Plants, Ornithology, Herpetology, Entomology, Ichthyology, Mammalogy,
  • Archeology
  • Aquatic Ecology and Management

The next step to become a TMN requires you to complete a minimum of 8 hours of approved advanced training. Last, you complete 40 hours of chapter approved volunteer service.

That sounds like a lot of hours, but it’s not hard to obtain them. The Rolling Plains Chapter conducts classes starting in March each year. The classes and field experiences are held on Tuesday or Thursday evenings, depending on the arrangements. Sometimes the field trips are done on Saturday.

When I completed the training program, I was well-informed about ecological concepts. Well, at least I was more informed than I had been.  In fact, I had no idea how much I didn’t know until I took the classes. When finished with the classroom training, my classmates and I were eager to put that knowledge to work alongside the alumni of the previous classes and members of the Rolling Plains Chapter.

After the training is completed there are plenty of chances to earn volunteer hours by participating in the chapter activities. Some of the activities include: monarch tagging, amphibian watches, bird watching and counting, cleaning water areas, and conducting tours at nature centers.

If this seems like a lot of work to become a volunteer, remember that the goal of TMN is to produce informed volunteers and improve public understanding of natural resource ecology and management. Help the Rolling Plains Chapter of TMN spread the knowledge within the community.

Rolling Plains Master Naturalists meet at 7 p.m. on the 1st Tuesday of every month at River Bend Nature Center, 2200 3rd Street, Wichita Falls, Texas.

Learn more about the Rolling Plains Master Naturalists at: contact Chapter President, Terry McKee at